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Emerging Benefit Trends: Meeting Millennials’ Needs

Posted by on Dec 23, 2016 in Access, People

Sutter_Health_Plus_Rob_Carnaroli_6x9_7606In this article published on December 23, 2016 in BenefitsPRO, Rob Carnaroli, vice president of sales for Sutter Health Plus, explains what millennials need and want from their employers beyond traditional health benefits.

Millennials have surpassed baby boomers as the nation’s largest living generation, according to population estimates released in 2016 by the U.S. Census Bureau. Defined as those between ages 18 to 34 in 2015, they number 75.4 million, surpassing the 74.9 million baby boomers (ages 51-69).

A decade ago, Pew Research offered an early look at the then-newest entrants to the U.S. workforce. Describing them as “digital natives,” researchers identified realities that differentiated millennials from other generations.

In one example, researchers pointed out that this new generation of employees did not expect lifetime employment from a single employer, didn’t relish jobs in hierarchical bureaucracies, and didn’t expect a full menu of paid corporate benefits.

The Pew Research report also highlighted younger workers’ comfort with online tools and noted that millennials are content creators. It also reported that this new group of workers were multi-taskers who often lived in a state of “continuous partial attention,” with permeable boundaries between work and leisure. 

Less than 10 years later, more than 1 in 3 American workers were millennials (those 18 to 34), surpassing Generation X (those in their mid-30s to early 50s) and are the largest share of the American workforce.

Even as this new generation has come of age, characteristics of millennials remain largely unchanged. Given their dominant presence in the workplace and the fact that they are the business leadership of the future, it’s important for employers and their business partners to understand what sets millennials apart. More importantly, employers need to respond with programs that fit with these employees’ preferences, knowledge and skill sets.

As today’s managers will attest, Pew’s research has in fact played itself out to be mostly true. Millennials still approach and view things differently than Gen Xers and baby boomers. As digital natives, their comfort with technology leads them to willingly consume and share information differently. They share more readily, more often, and can form solid opinions based on what they read on the internet. They also tend to be optimistic and eager to engage in and support their community. 

Benefits implications

Millennials tend to view employee benefits differently. Differences show up in everything from enrollment behaviors to benefit choices and health care delivery preferences.

For example, when it comes time to enroll in medical plans and ancillary benefits, millennials want to be in the driver’s seat. They want to make their own decisions, not have decisions made for them by their employer, and they do not want to just accept what is offered. They will openly challenge their options to ensure it’s what they want and need.

As Millennials approach the enrollment process, they’re comfortable using technology to learn about options — either on their own or using resources employers or brokers provide them. They use this knowledge to choose benefits that meet their health and lifestyle needs.

They also tend to take a more holistic view of benefits, looking beyond the traditional health benefits employers traditionally provide. For example, they’re less interested in learning about, discussing and choosing benefit features like copays and coinsurance amounts. Many millennials tend to derive greater benefit from flexible work schedules or arrangements, more training opportunities, and opportunities to make a difference.

Using a defined contribution approach and allowing millennial employees to “shop” for their coverage—much like they shop on Amazon—is more to their preference.  Private exchanges could see a lift in utilization or benefit from this shift.

Digital focus

The three most important elements of responding to millennial employees’ benefits needs are technology, technology and technology. And a key benefit of enhanced technology is convenience.

The mindset of this generation points to virtual interaction. Create a smartphone app and they’ll be happy to use it to handle just about anything related to their health care. Data from the Salesforce 2016 Connected Patient Report show that 60 percent of millennials would choose a primary care doctor who offers a patient app (for appointments, bills, health data, etc.) over one who doesn’t.

When they get sick, they’re likely to engage with friends on social networks or self-diagnose using WebMD or some other online medical resource. Their next step is to access a nurse or other professional through the app or a phone call, although they’d prefer online chat over a traditional voice call. The report also says that 52 percent of millennials would choose a primary care doctor who offers virtual care treatment options over one who doesn’t.

When millennials do engage with medical providers in person, they want the experience to be as convenient as possible. Why should it be more difficult to schedule a doctor’s appointment than it is to schedule a trip on Uber? Check-in should be equally simple, perhaps including the ability to complete medical history forms before the visit.

Millennials’ interest in health care goes beyond traditional practitioners and includes wellness and alternative approaches, from chiropractic to massage therapy to acupuncture and more.  Make sure those options are addressed.

Perhaps at some point in the future, carriers will collaborate with companies like Uber or Lyft to deliver physicians, nurses or physician assistants to a patient’s home or designated private room, clinic or space at work. In the meantime, millennials may opt for the convenience of getting preventative screenings or procedures done at mobile clinics, which are gaining popularity in many locales.

When millennials need to manage prescriptions, they’ll do so using their mobile device, and they’ll probably use online reviews of facilities and medical professionals, online cost estimators and chat functionality for communicating with their carriers.

Targeted communication

Employers and their benefit partners can bring value to millennials by recognizing and respecting their communication preferences. As in other elements of their lives, they expect options in how they can interact. But the same overarching rule of communication that applies to other generations applies to younger workers: keep your messages and materials simple and straightforward.

During enrollment, make information available online, in print, and in person. Consider using webinars or video primers. Keep them short and make them available for viewing later on and sharing. To the extent possible, make sure provider and facility reviews are available; peer review is an expectation of millennials. And make sure your enrollment communication recognizes diversity, as this generation is the most multicultural of any to date.

Convenience is important too. Make information readily available online, and if possible, through mobile apps. Consider including basic health and wellness information in your app, as well as links where users can dive deeper into a given subject.

Be sure to make patient care options apparent through the app. If a 24-hour nurse line or telehealth feature is available, list it. Use geolocation to recommend urgent care or other walk-in centers. And include in the app access to policy, claims, explanations of benefits, HSA or FSA account, and prescription plan information.

Finally, to round out the app functionality, consider including access to concierge functionality. The nature of an app is 24/7 information; making a live person available via chat or phone to clarify information, answer a question or provide guidance complements the digital offering and brings another level of care to the relationship.

By understanding what millennials need and want for health benefits and programs through technology, employers can keep a more engaged and productive work force.